Last updated: October 31, 2017

What Does Virus Mean?

A virus is an infectious agent that replicates only within the cells of living hosts, such as people. Viruses are a major source of illness in humans.

Safeopedia Explains Virus

Some viruses, such as seasonal influenza, are extremely common. These virus types can pose a risk in general occupational settings such as office environments. Depending on the virus, it is possible for infected workers to unknowingly transmit the virus to uninfected workers both through direct worker-to-worker contact and through indirect contact such as the shared use of office equipment.

Many healthcare professionals are at a particularly high risk of becoming ill, as they may work with infected individuals or in environments where infected individuals are present (e.g. hospital clinics) as an intrinsic part of their profession. Occupational health and safety regulations mandate that healthcare workers have access to sufficient hygiene materials and personal protective equipment (such as needle containers and masks), as well as be provided with appropriate education on the infection risks in their environment. Noted viral outbreaks in North American healthcare settings include norovirus and influenza.

OSHA and other major occupational health organizations have guidance for employers to reduce worker exposure to common viruses. For seasonal influenza, this includes promoting vaccination (flu shots), maintaining workplace cleanliness, promoting hand-washing, installing hand sanitizer stations, and encouraging sick workers to stay home so they do not spread a virus to co-workers. Commonly touched and shared workplace surfaces such as telephones and doorknobs can act as transmission sites for some viruses.

An additional viral risk in workplaces is the risk of “pandemic influenza.” Pandemic influenzas are new influenza viruses to which humans do not have an immunity. While these influenzas are rare, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety advises workplaces to prepare contingency plans in the case of a pandemic flu. Estimates of employee absenteeism during a pandemic flu range from 15 percent to 50 percent during the peak of a significant pandemic.


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